How haikus work in other languages


I’ve always been taught that haikus have 5-7-5 syllables, but what about in other languages that have a different sentence structure? Do they retain the 5-7-5 or are haikus different altogether?

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3 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Haikus are haikus. They don’t change just because it is in another language. The original language for a haiku is Japanese.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The main principle of haiku is the 5-7-5 structure so it’s mostly retained regardless of language.
I say “mostly” because there are no absolutes in the interpretation and some English haiku do no follow the 5-7-5 structure, and instead focuses on matching the essence of Japanese haiku (which usually shortens it to a 3-4-3).

In fact, traditional Japanese haiku does not necessarily follow the 5-7-5 either. I don’t know all the mannerisms but having excess syllables, particularly at the end of the third line is acceptable if it helps to add to the poem overall.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I have to say that my favorite “haiku” comes from my freshman college roommate:

> Haikus are hard (4)

> when not understanding (6)

> syllables. (3)

As I remember it, “write a haiku” was given to everyone as extra credit for some assignment or another… and despite the fact that he was Japanese (and bilingual) the concept of an English “syllable” still really threw him for a loop! (To the amusement of most syllable-intuiting native-English-speakers that read the above “haiku” as a 4-6-3 beat poem that entirely misses the mark.)

Nonetheless, it was a learning moment for everyone involved… (and now for even more folks a decade or so after the fact).

You see, the thing about a “haiku” is that the “5-7-5 structure” isn’t precisely about “syllables” in Japanese. In the original Japanese it was all about “on” (which we in English might mistakenly call either “letters” or “syllables” depending on the specific context). The Japanese language doesn’t use “letters” like a consonant “G” and vowels “A, E, I, O, U” to form “syllables” like “Ga, Ge, Gi, Go, Gu”… Japanese just has individual “characters” for the five distinct sounds of “Ga, Ge, Gi, Go, Gu”. As such, “writing a haiku” in Japanese is a bit more like *”write a coherent sentence with 5-7-5 characters per line”* rather than being *”write a coherent sentence with a 5-7-5 beat structure”* oriented.

So, basically:

> Haiku in English

> reinterprets the concept

> as metre; not *”on”*.

Poets of other languages might choose to interpret the concept of a “haiku” in any number of ways. If their writing system also naturally fits making 5-7-5 “character” structures into legitimate sentences, then they might choose to conform more closely to the original Japanese concept. If perhaps their natural intonation readily fits a 5-7-5 metre structure… then maybe they follow something closer to the English interpretation. Or perhaps, when they hear a foreign-language “haiku” they latch onto a different patterning concept entirely! (Like, what if they instead interpret the structure as a 5-7-5 plosives-per-line prescription!?!??) Really, the choice will come down to whatever the writers of those other languages find to be the more comfortable and/or interesting kind of prescription.